Utah woman charged for being topless in her own home argues lewdness law is unconstitutional

A strange arrest leads to a fight over a Utah state lewdness statute that condemns a display of nudity which “will likely cause affront or alarm” or is meant for sexual gratification

It started off as an impromptu teaching moment for her young stepchildren.

Tilli Buchanan and her husband had been installing insulation in their garage, and had stripped off their clothes just inside their home to get the itchy materials off their skin. She was topless when her stepchildren bounded down the stairs.

The children were a little embarrassed at the sight — but Buchanan told them they shouldn’t treat her differently because she was a woman. They aren’t uncomfortable seeing their dad’s chest, she told them, so it shouldn’t be different for her.

“This isn’t a sexual thing,” she recalled telling the children. “I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about this.”

But apparently state officials don’t have the same view. After getting wind of what Buchanan had thought was an innocent encounter, they filed criminal charges against the 27-year-old West Valley City woman.

She’s now facing three counts of lewdness involving a child — a class A misdemeanor. If convicted, Buchanan could land in jail and stay on the sex offender registry for the next 10 years.

She’s been fighting the case since prosecutors filed it in February, and soon, her attorney Randy Richards plans to ask a judge to find that Utah’s lewdness statute is unconstitutional because it discriminates against women.

Buchanan faces criminal penalties for being shirtless in her own home, Richards argues, while her husband was also in the same state of undress and is not charged.

“The fact that this was in the privacy of one’s own home is real troubling,” he said. “Different people have different moral positions as far as nudity.”

Buchanan insists the entire point she was trying to make to her children was that there is a double-standard in the way society treats male bodies versus female bodies. And now her lawyers are making a pretty compelling case that Utah’s lewdness laws rely on the same double-standard and are discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Robert Gehrke writes at The Salt Lake Tribune that “Buchanan could be locked up for a year or more and put on the state sex offender registry for a decade, like she’s some serial predator — a tactic that looks as if the registry is being weaponized to put pressure on the defendant.”

If I take my shirt off in public, for example, people might be disgusted by my pasty white skin and paunchy belly. While nobody wants to see that, I wouldn’t end up in jail and on the sex offender registry for it.

Yet here we have a case where a woman took her shirt off in the privacy of her home and is facing those sorts of dire consequences, and that’s not how the law is supposed to work.

Lawmakers, for example, can’t say, “The speed limit is 65 mph for men but 45 for women, because, you know, lady drivers.” The law is supposed to treat people the same, regardless of race, religion or breasts.

And recently, the 10th Circuit appeals court reached that very conclusion, ruling that a Fort Collins, Colo., ordinance was unconstitutional because it subjected women to different treatment than men.

There is some nuance here. Utah’s lewdness statute requires prosecutors to show a woman should know that revealing her breasts “will likely cause affront or alarm” or is meant for sexual gratification. The Colorado ordinance had no intent requirement and presumably would treat a random nip-slip the same as strippers in the park.

But the underlying concept is the same: That the government has to show a compelling reason to treat women different from men, and it seems that simply asserting that it’s always been that way or society has sexualized women’s breasts doesn’t cut it.

The whole story at The Salt Lake Tribune

515230cookie-checkUtah woman charged for being topless in her own home argues lewdness law is unconstitutional

Utah woman charged for being topless in her own home argues lewdness law is unconstitutional

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